Our previous article described influential authors and works of Western cyberpunk. Here we’ll talk about the most important cyberpunk works from Japan.
Japanese film cyberpunk often depicts the transformation of human beings into metallic monsters. The movies often take place in cities of steel and concrete and deal with topics such as mutations, dehumanization, psychic powers, and sexual deviations. These films often have the feel of experimental movies, and can be hard for general audiences to comprehend. The most important example is Tetsuo (1988) from Shinya Tsukamoto.
Japanese cyberpunk in comics (manga) and animated movies (anime) is dominated by two main works. The first is Akira (manga 1982-1990, anime 1988), written, illustrated, and later directed by Kacuhiro Otomo. Its story contains motifs of both Western cyberpunk (police state, gangs) and Japanese movie cyberpunk (transformation into monsters, psychic powers…).
Ghost in the Shell (GitS)
The second famous work that has dominated Japanese manga/anime is Ghost in the Shell (manga 1989-1990, anime 1995), written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow and directed by Mamoru Oshii. Both the comics and the movie deal with topics of emerging artificial intelligence, the humanness of cyborgs, and the dangers of abusing cyberspace. The first anime movie was followed by a sequel GitS: Innocence (2004), covering a side chapter from the comics. The two movies were later followed by a popular anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2006), consisting of two 26-episode seasons and one additional movie. Each of the episodes deals with a specific example of cybercrime, while staying connected to a main running theme for each of the seasons.
Serial Experiments Lain
This avant-garde transmedia project directed by Ryutaro Nakamura tells the story of a girl Lain who receives an email from her deceased classmate. She finds out that the girl has left her physical body and become a ghost in the network. Serial Experiments Lain became popular thanks mainly to its philosophical and psychological depth.
Eden: It’s an Endless World
This manga from Hiroki Endo covers many cyberpunk topics in a fresh way – mostly from the perspective of a son of a South American drug boss. The protagonist dives deeper and deeper into the political network as well as into the drug underground. Eden covers themes of morality, family relations, drugs, death, and religion (its story is inspired by Gnosticism). The comic is for mature audiences and contains depictions of violence, sexuality, and morally ambivalent motives.